ST. PETERSBURG — For one night, the losing streak took a backseat to a greater loss.
Don Zimmer, the Tampa Bay Rays’ senior advisor since 2004 and baseball lifer, died Wednesday evening at age 83.
“We lost a good buddy tonight,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said after the Rays’ 5-4 loss to the visiting Miami Marlins, a loss that extended the losing to nine straight games.
Third base coach Tom Foley, who began wearing Zimmer’s No. 66 jersey during the last homestand, said, “We knew he was a fighter. He had that grit. We’re going to miss him around here. We have been missing him. We hoped he get back.”
Zimmer died at BayCare Alliant Hospital in Dunedin. He had heart surgery April 16 to repair a leaky valve then developed fibrosis in his lungs.
Maddon, who learned of Zimmer’s passing during the fourth inning, told only the coaches during the game. He told the team afterwords and met with reporters with reddened eyes.
“When the team was struggling like this I’d always sic him on a couple of guys,” Maddon said. “He always had great advice.”
The emotion in the clubhouse was evident after players heard the sad news.
“It’s all of our loss,” Evan Longoria said. “Zim was a great man. There are no words to explain what he brought to us and what he meant to me.”
Longoria recalled the guidiance — professionally and personally — Zimmer offered.
“He gave me advice on everything,” Longoria said. “There was no shortage of laughs and no shortage of joking. But when it came down to it he always knew the right things to say. He was always there whether it was good or bad.”
Zimmer’s jersey was hung from the ceiling at one end of the Rays’ clubhouse. Foley, who doesn’t know if he will continue to wear the jersey, was very emotional when he spoke about his long-time friend.
“He had a lot of stories. He had a lot of history coming out of him. He had a lot of knowledge and he talked to a lot of young guys and veterans and well as the coaches, as well as the manager, so he had a lot to give, he had a lot to offer and he did without reserve,” Foley said. “I’m going to miss him yelling at me once in a while.”
Starter David Price was among the Rays searching for words after learning of Zimmer’s passing. He pitched 7 1/3 innings and struck out 11 against Miami, but couldn’t hold on to a 3-1 first inning lead and took the loss.
“Zim was a very special person to all of us — a special person in baseball,” Price said.
The Marlins, who won the first three games of this home-and-home four-game series, scored a first-inning run off Price when Casey McGehee singled home Gaincarlo Stanton with two outs.
The Rays answered in the bottom half of the inning when David DeJesus drew a leadoff walk and Ben Zobrist followed with his fourth home run of the season.
That gave the Rays a 2-1 lead. It was the first time the Rays lead since the middle of the seventh inning last Friday night in Boston.
Longoria followed with his sixth home run of the season — a laser into the 162 Landing down the left-field line.
But the Marlins took the lead in the third inning with the big blow being a three-run homer by Donovan Solano. It was Solano’s first home run of the year.
The rest of the game turned in to what Rays fans have been used to watching over the last 10 days.
The Rays hit into two double plays and couldn’t get a hit with runners in scoring position when they leaded the bases in the ninth inning with no outs.
DeJesus made it a one-run game when he grounded to first base.
Zobrist hit a high chopper to first base and rookie right fielder Kevin Kiermaier remained on third base.
Longoria was intentionally walked to lead the bases, and James Loney ended the night when he popped up to second base.
Noteworthy: Rays RF Wil Myers (right wrist fracture) said before the game he is also dealing with an injury in his left wrist suffered earlier this season while sliding. He expects that injury to heal during the five-to-six weeks that he will wear a cast on his right wrist.